LOS ANGELES - Talented up and coming actress Alison Janes knew early on she had the chops to bring characters to life while also developing a soprano voice that would take on the most challenging musical theater pieces. Having arrived in Los Angeles just a few years ago, Janes is already making her mark.
The multitalented New Hampshire native is known for her work in such films as "Morbid Minutes," "Matters of the Heart" and others as well as such stage productions as "Marilyn... Madness & Me," where she portrayed screen siren Marilyn Monroe to rave reviews.
Janes' stage work includes Vox Lumiere's acclaimed "The Phantom of the Opera," "It’s a Wonderful Life," "Sweeney Todd," "Pirates of Penzance" and many others. Her acting talents and operatic voice have taken her around the world with opera companies such as Vox Lumiere, Utah Opera and others.
Today, the young actress is preparing to for a series of live concerts as well as an upcoming film project, dramatizing the life of 1930s Hollywood icon Hedy Lamarr. Below is our interview with the talented actress.
Question: Where are you from originally and where did you study (college or otherwise)?
Answer: I’m originally from northern New Hampshire. It’s a lovely place to grow up with beautiful mountains and forests. I attended Wheaton College for my undergraduate studies, and DePaul University in Chicago for graduate school, earning a Masters of Arts Degree in Opera Performance.
Q: What led you into acting and singing?
A: Music of all varieties filled my home growing up. My family enjoyed singing just for fun in the car or around the house. One grandfather was a jazz musician and the other was a square dance caller with a great voice, so music and dance was a big part of my childhood. I even played the piano for a short time. As a child I was very shy so I didn’t seek out audiences beyond my family, but I had an active imagination and loved playing pretend and performing little scenes by myself in my bedroom. When I was in middle school, people at my church encouraged me to sing in the choir. I found I loved singing, and asked my parents to help me find a voice teacher.
Q: Who helped encourage you or served as your mentor or idol at the time?
A: My first voice teacher, Jackie Pelletier, was a wonderful gentle woman who inspired my passion for singing. She introduced me to opera and Italian songs, and fueled my love of 1940s music by giving me musical theater pieces from that era. She taught me until I graduated high school, and continued to stay in touch with me until she passed on, encouraging me in my pursuits. In high school I also had a wonderful choir teacher, Jay Stuart. He encouraged me to participate in All-State choirs and solo competitions. Though I had no background in jazz singing at the time, he encouraged me to compete in the Jazz All-State competition, where I placed number 5 in the state thanks to his help.
Q: What were your early roles and how did you handle the pressure of performing then?
A: My first real public performance opportunity was playing Mabel in "The Pirates of Penzance" for the local theater company. This experience helped me realize that, while I was very shy in day-to-day life, that shyness evaporated on stage because I was inhabiting a character; it wasn’t about me, or any insecurities I might have. I was immersed in another world. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to play a number of fun and saucy ladies such as Cunegonde in “Candide", Adele in "Die Fledermaus" and Nanetta in “Falstaff". I have learned that, for the most part, people want you to succeed.
Q: When did you come to Los Angeles and what led you to make the decision to come?
A: I came to LA in 2010. I’m not going to lie; weather was a huge factor in my decision. I grew up in the cold in northern New Hampshire and endured more cold during my college years in Chicago, but I am not built for the cold. That being said, I also knew that I wanted to give myself the opportunity to pursue film and television. I began booking smaller film & TV roles in Chicago but I knew that, for me and the type of characters I tend to be cast as, the film and TV opportunities in L.A. far outweighed those in Chicago.
Q: What was the biggest challenge about coming to L.A.?
A: Money and relationships. Everyone will tell you how expensive it is to live in L.A. Double whatever they tell you. But even harder than figuring out how to pay rent was missing my family and friends who are all on the East Coast and in Chicago. To thrive in a new location it is important to find a “home” wherever you go, a community. It takes time to find the groups that get you, that are your people, but it’s worth the effort. I was very lucky to find a great film networking group and to join both a local theater company and a touring company within my first year of moving here, and those things made all the difference. Within these groups I was able to find my artistic family that I still create with to this day.
Q: What do you love about the theater and what is the difference between film and theater acting?
A: I love the intimacy and immediacy of having a live audience in theater. You’re all on the ride together, and having that real time interaction and reaction is priceless. In film there is a different kind of intimacy, an intimacy of space, which is beautiful... The camera is just feet, if not inches, from your face so the slightest movements are magnified. As far as the difference between theater and film acting, I believe good acting is good acting regardless of the medium.
Q: When is your next play about Marilyn Monroe and how did you first land that role?
A: We are in talks to remount "Marilyn, Madness and Me" in the spring of 2016, as well as possibly tour the production. I’ve played Marilyn in several other plays and films as well, and have always felt a strong connection to her. I first fell in love with her work in high school, when I saw "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." That led me to read biographies and see her other films... The funny thing about "Marilyn, Madness and Me" was that I originally auditioned to be the understudy. I absolutely loved the play and the writing but the lead was already cast. So I was relaxed and just enjoyed the audition and then left for two weeks with my family in France. A week into my trip, I received a number of frantic calls from my agent, my manager, and the casting director. I realized it must be important because they weren’t blinking at the cost of making international calls. When I finally contacted them, they told me that after much consideration the writer and director wanted me to be the lead instead of the understudy... I was nominated for Best Lead Actress by Broadway World.
Q: What is it like to play a person who is often impersonated and played in the media?
A: I think it’s really about finding the soul of the person, stripping away how others portray and define her, and digging into how she defined herself and who she was underneath everything. Who was Marilyn at home, alone, with no media around? It’s an immense responsibility, playing someone who actually lived. In our culture we tend to forget that these icons are people just like us, with fears and insecurities and joys. My drive is always to portray her with truth and in a way that honors her humanity.
Q: You've played Christine in "Phantom of the Opera," last year, what was that experience like?
A: I’m spoiled because Christine has such great music and she is an interesting and dynamic character. It’s fun to dive into a character who is so often viewed as a one-dimensional victim, and reimagine her character. I worked with the director, Trance Thompson, and we found more ways to humanize her, exploring a stronger Christine... We toured across the United States, and internationally as well. Touring is an adventure, an opportunity to experience and learn about a variety of cultures, and I had a wonderful cast that was (and is) like my family. We shot the film version of the show in Lisbon, Portugal, which was a really great experience.
Q: What are your current plans?
A: I have several film projects in development including writing and starring in a biopic about Hedy Lamarr. Writing this script was important to me because we need to see more strong and intelligent females in media. Ms. Lamarr was not only a great actress but also an inventor, responsible for much of the technology we still use today like wifi. This summer I’ll be doing a live concert in Los Angeles with Chase Matthews and Danielle Skalsky from my "Phantom of the Opera" family. I’ve also been enjoying producing and will be producing two major special events, a Halloween Show and my annual Christmas Show, "Christmas Spectacular, Spectacular!" benefiting Operation USA’s toy drive. You can follow me on my website (alisonjanes.com), Facebook (www.facebook.com/alisonjanesfans), Twitter (@alijanes), and YouTube (www.youtube.com/maltesebluebird) for updates.